Friday, January 21, 2011

Ciolos lays it on the line

Dacian Ciolos has emerged as a more authoritative and decisive farm commissioner than many expected. Whether his line is the correct one is another matter. But the grumpy old man of British farming, Farmers Weekly correspondent David Richardson writes of his appearance at the Oxford Farming Conference, 'he had comprehensively mastered his brief and, when questioned, actually answered as fully and frankly as any politician I have known.'

The content of his message is perhaps less welcome. It's clear that he sees his job as being to change the CAP but also to defend its essential elements. I do, however, welcome the news that research and development may be included in pillar two. The food chain needs more publicy funded, applied research which can help to tackle pressing policy problems and on farm challenges. This has been cut back drastically over the years.

It is evident that the Commissioner thinks that part of the price of defending the CAP is capping subsidies to larger farmers. He is clearly influenced by his Romanian experience where it has been possible for farmers with very large farms (presumably in some cases former collective farms) to use the income from subsidies to start other businesses. This is evidently resented in Romania where there are also many small (and by European standards) relatively backward farms.

Ciolos argues that in some parts of Europe the choice is small farms or no agricultural activity at all. It may be that in some of these areas agricultural activity is not really viable and the land should be farmed as an ecological asset to maximise environmental benefits.

Ciolos argues that it's very difficult to explain how giving €2m to one individual or company is 'income support'. If the CAP really is income support, it's an inefficient way of delivering it.

What is continually overlooked with the CAP is the international competitiveness dimension which is supposed to form part of the policy. Large-scale farmers tend to farm to a high standard (including animal welfare standards), are highly competitive and also are often substantially involved in agri-environmental work.

If you cut off aid to them, you are penalising them for being more efficient. In any case there would be all sorts of legal problems over the definition of a farm business.

Ciolos evidently sees the CAP as more justifiable as a mechanism for the transfer of funds from taxpayers and consumers to marginal farmers. It is actually not an efficient way of helping them or the environment, it doesn't do much for food security (given that their output is low) and it doesn't help the EU food industry to become more competitive.

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